Archaic learning

The colleges and universities in the state are stuck in decades old courses and curriculum when the world has moved on. Geer Mohammad Ishaq proposes some measures to enable the higher education system to face today’s global challenge.

Our higher educational system has not gone through any substantial reforms or changes vis-?-vis curriculum over the past several decades. We continue to offer same post-graduate programmes in Science, Arts, Commerce, Social Science and Education faculties since decades with little innovations although their internal review and updation is carried out from time to time.

Consequently our curriculum lacks dynamism and flexibility and we are failing to offer new programmes in tune with changing times and global trends. On the contrary, multidisciplinary campuses of private universities that are coming up across India are offering most innovative and modern courses to students. Rigidity and paralysis of our course curriculum, improper selection, organization, implementation and evaluation of curriculum content and the irrelevance of curriculum to the needs of our society are some of the problems associated with our higher education system. For any meaningful advancement to be made in our education system a mid and long-term strategic orientation of our curriculum needs to be undertaken and some time-bound goals need to be fixed to achieve the desired results.

A core committee of experts from diverse fields needs to be framed that will undertake the responsibility of identification, design, restructuring and renovation of our curriculum offered at college and university level in a manner to make these courses learner-centered, problem-based and research-driven. Curriculum renovation that is realistic and student-centered, that is quick in rejuvenating and revitalizing hope and passion for acquisition of broad-based knowledge that is worthwhile in a learner should be the focus of our higher education structure.

Methodology that will aid self discovery and problem-solving ability which allows learners the opportunity for creativity should be entrenched in our curriculum. Quality and relevance are the two main features that curriculum development in our University system needs at present. At the same time changes and innovations of our higher education system must involve the emergence of elastic curricula models and educational policies which emphasize interdisciplinary courses, open-ended systems, inter-generational and inter-professional relationships and sustainability.

A ten-point proposal for the strategic reforms in our higher education system calling for a complete paradigm shift is presented as under:

INNOVATION AND DIVERSIFICATION
Lack of initiative, innovation, skills, independent constructive mindset and creative ideals characterize today’s system of our higher education. We need to shift from a system that encourages memorization in learning processes and theoretical explanation to areas that need practical illustration. Our present system favours cognitive development above other domains of education. Therefore need of the hour is to keep pace with brisk technological advancements in teaching learning process. We should not lag behind in adopting the latest technology in every sphere of our education system, be it in teaching, devising syllabi, evaluation methods, certification and automation. The role of a teacher should change from knowledge disseminator to knowledge creator. At university as well as college level, innovation and greater diversification of subjects is the needed. For ages our colleges and universities have been offering the same courses. We need to offer more specializations in all existing subjects and faculties and introduce new subjects, so that a broader choice is available to the students and they emerge as specialists in one specific area rather than ending up being generalists.
There is need to start new courses like industrial production, nanotechnology, microprocessor technology, hotel management, polymer chemistry, geophysics, economic botany, phytochemistry, rural and urban management, entrepreneurship development, communications, travel and tourism, interior design etc to name a few.

MODERNIZATION AND AUGMENTATION
There is need to modify conventional teaching methodologies and introduce recent advances in the teaching-learning process. We must switch over from chalk and talk to more interactive modes of teaching and learning by making use of audio-visual aids, e-contents, databases, e-learning objects etc. Adequate infrastructure, faculty, staff, funds and other facilities should also be made available to all university teaching departments and other affiliated higher educational institutions. Faculty strength of our educational institutions has to be augmented in order to face the challenges of globalization. Adhocism and contractualism in higher education has led to mediocrity and it should be abolished. Prior to opening up of new colleges and new        university campuses, adequate infrastructure, faculty and other facilities should be made available. Diversion of faculty from old to new institutions or from main to satellite campuses must be done away with.

INTEGRATION AND INTERACTION
Integrated efforts should be made by all stake holders in converting our higher educational institutes into the centres of knowledge and excellence. All players should contribute their bit in enhancing knowledge capital of our youth and building a knowledge based society. There is need for greater integration, collaboration and better coordination between primary, secondary, higher secondary and university level education in the state and to have a supervisory council with advisory status for integration of these three units. Academia-industry and academia-society interactions must be enhanced at all levels. There should be greater autonomy to institutions of higher learning. Concept of autonomous colleges needs to be seriously considered.

EXTENSION AND APPLICATION
Knowledge Commission report aims at increasing the number of universities across India to 1500 from the present 378 so that the gross enrolment ratio increases to 15 percent from the current level of 11% by the year 2015. We need to augment residential facilities available to students as well as teachers at district, sub-district and block level. Extended library facilities should be made available beyond normal working hours in all degree colleges. In view of limited intake capacity in colleges and universities, distance mode of education should be fostered and expanded to enhance accessibility to education. Quality of research work has to be drastically improved. Research work has to be made more applied, socially relevant and productive.

ASSESSMENT AND ACCREDITATION
Objectives of higher education should be properly defined and total quality management procedures adopted in teaching, research and extension at the institutions of higher education. A teacher must be evaluated not only for his teaching but also for his research and extension activities. Regular assessment of teachers should be carried out through students. Carry out regular review and reforms of conventional examination and evaluation patterns. Not only academic but non-scholastic aspects of the learners’ personality should also be assessed. Assessment of all educational institutes by NAAC, NAB etc should be made mandatory and financial support should be provided in accordance with the ranks obtained therein. All university departments and affiliated institutions offering technical courses must offer courses duly approved by AICTE and other relevant Councils like MCI, PCI, Nursing Council of India etc.

INCENTIVIZATION AND HARMONIZATION
Creative skills and competitive spirits of the students of university education should be encouraged to make them accomplished achievers rather than passive knowledge-seekers. In order to make our students better citizens, value based education for inculcating ethics and morality in them needs to be reinforced. Link education with livelihood and make it job-oriented. Professional and vocational education should be fostered and employability promoted to alleviate skill-deprivation among students. There has to be better harmonization between student-teacher and teacher-society relationships. Our academia must remain sensitive to the problems in the society.

PARTNERSHIP AND PRIVATIZATION
No one can deny the role played by private players in renovation and modernization of our education and skill-upgradation of our youth. However partnership should be the key to development rather than complete privatization of the education sector. Privatization of education should be allowed in a controlled fashion. Initiatives of private players may however be encouraged wherever required with proper enforcement of regulations. Partnership with industry must also be fostered in as many disciplines as possible.

TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY
To bring in accountability in the system, recommendations of various expert committees and statutory bodies like UGC need to be implemented. Besides providing better perks and remuneration to teachers, they should be made more accountable. Transparency in educational institutions should be increased and teachers should have a greater realization of their responsibilities towards the society. Recruitment and transfer procedures and policies in educational institutions should also be made more transparent. Admission policy in colleges and universities needs to be streamlined. Political interference in academic matters like admissions, appointments, promotions, transfers etc has to be got rid of. There should be a provision for incentives for better performance so that talent gets nurtured and commitment to work is duly appreciated.

PLANNING AND IMPLEMENTATION
Prior to opening up of new colleges, adequate infrastructure, faculty and other facilities need to be made available. Haphazard and unplanned expansion of higher educational institutes has to be halted. Promulgate a new comprehensive state education policy. Disparities between state and central policies need to be removed. Bridge the gap between academia and policy-makers and frame policies after consulting academia. There should be equitable participation and involvement of academicians in framing policies related to higher education. Policies once framed must be properly implemented and there must be continuous monitoring and regular review of all policies apart from an annual external audit by some independent agency.

ORIENTATION AND CONSOLIDATION
All these structural and functional changes notwithstanding, to start with, we need to address gross academic issues like admissions, syllabi, coordination, faculty strength, teacher training, research etc effectively. Regular review and updation of syllabi as well as reforms in evaluation/examination patterns should be carried out by all educational institutes. Curriculum developers should also adopt the interdisciplinary approach to curriculum. Training and placement of pass-outs should be made an integral part of higher education besides conducting orientation programmes, refresher courses, methodology workshops and QIPs for teachers on regular basis. We also need to diversify our education by making more subject combinations available. Orientation of students towards professional subjects needs to be done at an earlier stage so as to provide greater avenues for employment and foster their inherent capabilities in one particular stream rather than making them study all kinds of subjects irrespective of their interests and inclinations.

(The Author teaches at the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Kashmir)

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